Defending Rights and Practicing Law After July 15th
As a result of an attempted coup on July 15th 2016, the Turkish Government took immediate steps to declare a state of emergency, excessively violating many basic human rights. It was announced that the state of emergency was initiated to counter and fight individuals attempting the coup. However, along with the state of emergency, many organizations, foundations, schools and institutions were banned from operation; tens of thousands of public officers were fired without proper investigation; tens of thousands of people were detained and as much as 300,000 passports were unlawfully cancelled.
Those individuals attempted to work with lawyers to find legal ways to battle this system in a country deemed a “constitutional republic.” However, there was a problem. Bar associations made a habit of – unlawfully – denying lawyers to persons associated with a terrorist organization named “Feto.” This was interfering with those people’s rights to stand before court and fight for lawful treatment. Those detained, fired, and seized of their properties as a result of their connections to “Feto” ended up with lawyers who were confronted with the same unlawful treatments. For reasons no other than working on such cases, most lawyers went through legal proceedings and many were detained.
Lawyers defending the rights of these people faced a dangerous situation when it is a fact that the right to defend cannot be limited unless under certain national and international circumstances. According to the Turkish legal system, it is impossible to prosecute a lawyer based on cases they take on or people they represent in court. Despite this factor, more than 300 lawyers were detained. The purpose of this was to actively inhibit any legal battles – on a national and international scale – against anti human rights revisions made along the state of emergency. Nonetheless, when lawyers received cases concerning the so-called “Feto” organization, they were aware that their primary concern should be about their own safety. Knowing this, lawyers abstained from taking on such cases even though it is stated in the Turkish legal system that one is innocent until proven guilty.
Access to fair trial is constrained; this is alluded from the fact that the government overran many law firms and put out of commission many organizations, foundations, schools and institutions, as aforementioned. Universal law cannot be used to explain why and how individuals and their lawyers are detained without concrete evidence. In fact, in today’s Turkey, the lawyers taking on legal cases dealing with “Feto” is interpreted and deems lawyers as members of the “Feto” organization. Thus the reason to detain them. Along with the 300 or so detained lawyers, 700 more of them are under an arrest warrant. This pressure put on lawyers is explanatory of the type of rule of law Turkey is currently under.
At this stage, people have given up battling for their rights. Legally, bar associations are bound to provide lawyers to detained individuals. However, they have refrained from doing so, thus inhibiting fair court trials. Lawyers not objecting to unjust treatment of detained lawyers and those whose offices are being seized will be remembered.
As famous thinker Moulierac said, “When we are on our duty, we do not depend on our clients, the judge, or any higher power. We do not pretend there are people below us. We do not know a hierarchical higher power either. There is no difference between someone who has a superior name or is superior and who is not. Lawyers never had slaves; they never had masters either!” The pressure and oppressive state lawyers are in is indicative of Turkey’s future state. Lawyers detained simply by possessing in their offices, cases bound by legal limits and those detained because of membership in a legal organization are such examples.
The best indicator and example of differences in perception of how human rights should be carried out is the lawyers’ availability and help towards victims of Donald Trump’s ban on immigration. Turkey’s mindset is far from the example mentioned here; lawyers’ professions are being constrained. In the face of these unlawful activities, one would expect law authorities to oppose. This has not happened for fear of legal prosecution or ideological reasons. Thus, the already lacking trust on the legal system is deteriorating.
Amidst all this pressure, brave lawyers exercising their profession and defending rights of individuals deemed guilty by the government are being opposed by judges with threats of prosecution and detainment. Lawyers whose lives and property were under threat saw no other solution than leaving the country. Under such threats, lawyers were doubtful of their ability to defend themselves, let alone defend and advocate the people being prosecuted.